Why the OLD theatre must go NEW
100 Years of History
The Wilmette Theatre is located in this small community just north of Chicago. Most local, independent theaters across the country are long shuttered. Ours is a wonderful exception. Because our building houses a two screen movie space and a nationally recognized acting school, The Actors Training Center, the historic Wilmette Theatre is open and bustling.
For 96 years, the Wilmette was privately owned. Three years ago, it became a registered 501 (c)(3), not-for-profit. Our funding is derived from individual donations, donations from North Shore Community Bank, movie and programming revenue, and the ATC’s tuition. We receive no funding from the village of Wilmette.
To keep our expenses as low as possible, we operate with a bare bones but extremely dedicated staff. Because of the inherent costs of running an old building, as well as the costs of doing business, the money we bring in barely covers our monthly expenses, and at times does not.
The Digital Imperative
Against that tenuous financial backdrop, we are facing another, even more critical challenge to our future, and that is the movie industry’s conversion from 35 mm film to digital technology. Several years ago, in a rare act of unity, all the major movie studios came together and committed to copying and distributing their movies ONLY in digital format, and no longer in 35 mm. The large movie chains got the word early on and were given financial incentives to make the change. Virtually all have converted.
In September, Gary Susman in Rolling Stone Magazine wrote an enlightening yet sobering article about the digital conversion. Susman does a wonderful job of summarizing the transition that’s taken place and why. He writes: “The major studios have driven the movement mainly -‐ but not solely -‐ because of the high cost of printing and distributing films on celluloid versus digital. They also argue that the digital quality doesn’t degrade (doesn’t get dirty, scratched or break) with repeated screenings the way celluloid does, and despite what some filmmakers and film buffs vehemently argue, the studios claim that the screen quality of digital is almost as good as 35 mm. “
“Over the past couple years, Hollywood has all but ceased distributing films on celluloid reels, the medium of movies for more than 100 years, in favor of digital prints stored on hard drives. (A digital copy may cost the studios just $125, compared to as much as $2,000 for a 35MM print.) America's movie screens have been forced to follow suit, and so far, some 85 percent have done so, buying digital projectors that can cost as much as $100,000 a piece."
But not every theater can afford to cough up that kind of cash. The National Association of Theater Owners, the trade organization that represents exhibitors, has estimated that as many as 10,000 screens – one in every five screens in North America – could go dark because they can't afford to convert.
Preserve the Magic in Wilmette and Get a Gift in Return
To remain in the movie theater business, our challenge is to convert our two screens to digital, at the cost of over $100,000.
We recently were fortunate enough to receive a generous donation to enable us to pay for one of our two theater digital projectors - a Christie Solaria One. That projector has allowed us to show a wider range of movies at the theatre and has significantly reduced the amount of time and labor it takes to prepare and maintain running the 35mm projector.
This was a significant breath of life for us but we are now asking you to help us complete the work. We need your support funding the second digital projection system. That system will include:
- Digital projector
- Lens and lamp
- Digital projector movie server
- Cabling and hardware
- Upgraded sound system
If we are fortunate enough to meet or exceed our goal for the second digital projection system we are committed to tackling other projects that are also very critical to the future of the theater. Those projects include:
- Upgraded signage outside of our building and in our lobby,
- Better quality movie screens (our current ones are very old)
- New seats for our theaters
- Upgrading our theater management software
- A new marquee to help attract customers
The Kickstarter approach to fundraising allows us to thank you for your contribution with a gift from the Wilmette Theatre. However, the reality with Kickstarter is that we must reach 100% of our goal ($70,000) or we get nothing.
But we believe in our community and we believe in you, so our optimism in achieving that $70,000 goal is high.
Risks and challenges
We are optimistic that with a funded project we can get the new system purchased and installed rapidly. Mostly because we have already been through the installation process once. The vendor we used did an outstanding job and we plan to stick with them. However, there are always outside factors that could affect this project including a delay in equipment or parts shipping, an unexpected issue with our building or electrical infrastructure, turnover in staff - all potentially extending the amount of time to fully realize the benefits of the new digital projection system. All in all, we view these as very minor risks.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
If our campaign is successful, aside from offering a state of the art digital image, the sound quality of our movies will be greatly improved.
The digital cinema system we plan to purchase will have a new amplifier, audio processor and sound monitor. Not only will the movies look great but they will sound great too!
The Wilmette Theater is a registered 501c-3 not for profit organization which means your contribution would indeed be deductible.
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- (30 days)